04 August 2008

David Davis

One of the bigger stories I didn't get round to writing about in the last two months was David Davis's little stunt.

I don't call it a stunt to disparage it or him - stunts are what it takes to get attention these days. If the government introduced a policy of sacrificing newborn babies to Beelzebub, the media would spend hundreds of hours of screen time on how it affects any possible leadership challenge by David Milliband, whether Boris Johnson and David Cameron are disagreeing about the best response, and what the effect will be on the voting patterns of Beelzebub-worshipers. Actual substantive discussion of the merits of baby-sacrificing would be left to a few vox pops and rentaquotes from the most ludicrous partisans on both sides. (It might be difficult to find a ludicrous anti-baby-sacrificing position, but they would manage it).

"Opposition spokesman objects to new police powers" is about as far away from being news as it is possible to get. To actually get anyone to notice, there must be a conflict, an election, a resignation. So, Davis gave us all three.

What has he achieved? That will become more obvious now that the fuss has died down. First, he has probably doubled the number of people who remember his name - no small thing for an opposition MP. I would assume the only Conservative MPs with any name recognition are Cameron, former leaders Howard, Hague and Duncan-Smith, and a few former ministers such as Redwood. The only other thing that would have got Davis as much publicity would have been a sex scandal.

That's by the way. The main effect of the escapade has been to nail his colours to the mast. The reason his opposition to 42-day detention was not newsworthy or interesting was that oppositions always object to the government curtailing freedom, and then always go on to do more of it when they get into power. Nobody cares any more - it is just accepted that politicians are forced to go through the motions.

But nobody forced Davis to go through this. By taking this extraordinary step, Davis has actually succeeded in making a credible commitment. Will a Conservative government continue to generously fund public services as they promise? Buggered if I know - I hope not. Will they follow through their policies on micro-generation? Anyone's guess. Will they push on with expanding the police state and replacing justice with administration? Not if David Davis is in the cabinet, they won't.

Wow.

That's really something. And that's why the irrelevance of resigning as an MP and then being reelected doesn't matter. The frankly obscure details of the 42-day issue don't matter. All that matters is that one politician said "No further and I really mean it", and we can believe him, not because he is unusually honest, but because he has found a way to make a commitment that, however much he might want to go back on in future, he won't be able to.

No comments: